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Tim Myers: Don’t be quick to criticize state schools

Posted: July 13, 2012 7:55 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2012 7:55 p.m.

During our recent family vacation to Oahu, two things of note occurred with local ramifications. First, the Dodgers completed a swoon, losing 11 of 12 games to now struggle with the San Francisco Giants on a daily basis to stay on top of the National League West.

What caused this swoon? Numerically, the Dodgers starting pitching staff maintained a remarkably low earned run average, so one cannot hang the catastrophe on gopher balls. Instead, the Dodgers could not buy a run, barely able to put the baseball into play in this nightmarish period.

So the sports punditry spun into action: The Dodgers needed to hit, and particularly hit with runners in scoring position, like this constituted some news to the slumping players, who just needed a reminder to swing the bat when they get into the batter’s box.

The second event: We obtained a rental car to explore the island, and spent our (relatively short) time driving listening to 104.3, Oahu’s Hip Hop Station. During the day, we noted a large number of public service announcements touting the University of Hawaii’s 15 to Finish program, which included a reference to the website,

The website touts the (I thought) probably obvious arithmetic that a university student can complete a bachelor’s degree that normally requires about 120 semester units (180 quarter units) in four years by enrolling (and successfully completing) 15 units per semester. The website contains “helpful” tidbits, including focusing more heavily on studies and completing math and English requirements quickly, in addition to the arithmetic imperative.

These PSAs piqued my curiosity. With one child that completed their bachelor’s degree in 2011 in the UC system, another that should complete theirs in 2013 (fingers crossed) in the CSU system and a senior that will be (hopefully) matriculating in the fall of 2013, I voraciously consume all the college information I can.

So what about graduation rates for the UC, CSU and community college systems in California? All colleges and universities are required to provide four-, five- and six-year graduation rates to the Department of Education, which could remove institutions of higher learning from Pell Grant and subsidized student loan qualification if they do not sufficiently move students toward graduation within the six-year time frame.

For the University of California system, six-year graduation rates approach 90 percent, particularly in the top three universities in the system at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego. For the CSU system, aggregate graduation rates in six years approach 50 percent, with four-year graduation rates around 14 percent.

And for our community college system, just under 40 percent of enrollees statewide will complete their certificates or transfer to a four year institution within three years, while our own College of the Canyons does a bit better with just under 44 percent

The differences in these results between the three levels of institutions make perfect sense. The UC system admits only the most highly qualified students, (the average GPA for entering freshman in the top three UCs is regularly above 4.0) most probably motivated to complete their education quickly.

The CSU system admits students with generally lower GPAs and test scores, so the lower graduation rate also makes perfect sense. The same issue redounds to community college success, which brought some recently to question the size and admission practices of these two institutions.

While class availability and other matters do (somewhat) impact the ability to graduate in four years, one can usually find resolution of these issues within six years. Thus, do the CSU systems admit too many students and does the open access system of community colleges really make sense in a time of austerity?

But, before one goes about indicting the CSU and community college system for soft admission requirements and preserving their own perhaps bloated size and status, one must examine the graduation rate issue the University of Hawaii’s 15 to Finish program seeks to address.

The four-year graduation rate for the system? Six percent of those that enter a University of Hawaii campus will walk across the graduation stage within a four-year period. In six years, that percentage increases to a whopping 15 percent.

It always amazes me what one can learn on vacation. Perhaps one should not find themselves so quick to criticize our homegrown California institutions because it actually turns out they do a (relatively) credible job.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident.


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